Holi is a religious spring festival celebrated by Hindus. It is also known as Festival of Colors, held at the end of the winter season on the last full moon day of the lunar month Phalguna (February/March), (PhalgunPurnima), which usually falls in the later part of February or March.
Holi is also called the Spring Festival - as it marks the arrival of spring the season of hope and joy. The gloom of the winter goes as Holi promises bright summer days. Nature too, it seems rejoices at the arrival of Holi and wears its best clothes. Fields get filled with crops promising a good harvest to the farmers and flowers bloom coloring the surroundings and filling fragrance in the air.
In India, it is one of the major festivals thus it is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety with grand festivities. In fact, because of its popularity tourists search for cheap airfare to India just to witness the fascinating activities of this festival.
Entire India wears a festive look when it is time for Holi celebration, hence the beautiful sight brought about by this festival is more than worthy of cheap flights to India. Market places get abuzz with activity as frenzied shoppers start making preparations for the festival. Heaps of various hues of gulal and abeer can be seen on the roadside days before the festival. Pichkaris in innovative and modern design too come up every year to lure the children who wish to collect them as Holi memorabilia and of course, to drench everybody in the town. Womenfolk too start making early preparations for the holi festival as they cook loads of gujiya, mathri and papri for the family and also for the relatives. At some places especially in the north women also make papads and potato chips at this time.
The main day, Holi, is celebrated by people throwing scented powder and perfume at each other. Bonfires are lit on the eve of the festival, also known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Chhoti Holi (little Holi). After doing holika dahan prayers are said and praise is offered. The bonfires are lit in memory of the miraculous escape that young Prahladaccomplished when Demoness Holika, sister of Hiranyakashipu, carried him into the fire. Holika was burnt but Prahlad, a staunch devotee of god Vishnu, escaped without any injuries due to his unshakable devotion. Holika Dahan is referred to as Kama Dahanam in South India.
Great excitement can be seen in people on the next day when it is actually the time for the play of colors. Shops and offices remain closed for the day and people get all the time to get crazy and whacky. Bright colors of gulal and abeer fill the air and people take turns in pouring color water over each other. Children take special delight in spraying colors on one another with their pichkaris and throwing water balloons and passers by. Women and senior citizen form groups called tolis and move in colonies - applying colors and exchanging greetings. Songs, dance on the rhythm of dholak and mouthwatering Holi delicacies are the other highlights of the day.
There is also a tradition of consuming the very intoxicating bhang on this day to further enhance the spirit of Holi. It is so much fun to watch the otherwise sober people making clowns of themselves in full public display. Some, however, take bhang in excess and spoil the spirit. Caution should therefore be taken while consuming bhang delicacies.
After a fun-filled and exciting day, the evening is spent in sobriety when people meet friends and relatives and exchange sweets and festive greetings.
People believed that the spirit of Holi encourages the feeling of brotherhood in society and even the enemies turn friend on this day. People of all communities and even religions participate in this joyous and colorful festival and strengthen the secular fabric of the nation.
Legends of Holi Festival
Holi has various legends associated with it. The foremost is the legend of demon King Hiranyakashyap who demanded everybody in his kingdom to worship him but his pious son, Prahlad became a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap wanted his son to be killed. He asked his sister Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap as Holika had a boon which made he immune to fire. Story goes that Prahlad was saved by lord himself for his extreme devotion and evil minded Holika was burnt to ashes, for her boon worked only when she entered the fire alone.
Since that time, people light a bonfire, called Holika on the eve of Holi festival and celebrate the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion to god. Children take special delight in the tradition and this has another legend attached to it. It says that there was once an ogress Dhundhi who used to trouble children in the kingdom of Prithu. She was chased away by children on the day of Holi. Therefore, children are allowed to play pranks at the time of 'Holika Dahan'.
Some also celebrate the death of evil minded Pootana. The ogress tried to Lord Krishna as an infant by feeding it poisonous milk while executing the plan of Kansa, Krishna's devil uncle. However, Krishna sucked her blood and brought her end. Some who view the origin of festivals from seasonal cycles believe that Pootana represents winter and her death the cessation and end of winter.
In South India, people worship Kaamadeva- the god of love and passion for his extreme sacrifice. According to a legend, Kaamadeva shot his powerful love arrow on Lord Shiva to revoke his interest in the worldly affairs in the interest of the earth. However, Lord Shiva was enraged as he was in deep mediation and opened his third eye which reduced Kaamadeva to ashes. Though, later on the request of Rati, Kaamadeva's wife, Shiva was pleased to restore him back.